There are many decking boards materials available in the market. For many years, people have used wood. But in recent years, many wood alternatives are becoming more popular, namely composites. But why do people prefer to use it instead of real wood for deck building? What are its advantages and disadvantages?
What are Wood-Plastic Composites?
The term composite in decking, or also called wood-plastic and WPC, refers to materials made of thermoplastics, such as polyethene, polypropylene, and PVC, and wood fibres, along with minerals and inorganic filler materials. The process of producing it involves extrusion or compression moulding. Despite the difference, many people in the flooring industry mistakenly refer to any material (with or without wood fibre) that has an outer veneer exterior as WPC. However, as mentioned, for a material to be considered composites, it has to have wood fibres. Today, WPC materials have different applications. People use them for cladding, trimming, infrastructures, and even outside the construction industry, such as automotive and general consumer products. But the most popular uses of these materials are for landscaping and hardscaping, especially for decking, fencing, and railing.
The Market Growth of Composites
The earliest mention of commercial plastic-wood materials can be traced back as early as the late 60s to early 70s. A company named American Woodstock produced automotive trimming out of extruded polypropylene and wood flour. At that time, however, wood-plastic materials have yet to have applications in the construction industry, at least not until the 90s. In the early 90s, Mobil Chemical Company, which later became Trex, and Advanced Environmental Recycling technology, a company that develops technology to reuse waste plastics, started producing WPC using polyethene and wood flour. They successfully released various products, such as tables, flooring, and landscaping materials. Due to the success of Mobil Chemical Company, many other companies followed suit. Various companies created their versions of composites, each with their very own additions and enhancements. The collaboration of corporations and other research institutions contributed to the rapid technological improvement of WPC materials. Today, composite materials are continuing to see growth in the global market. From 50,000 tons in 1995, production of WPC reached almost 3 million tons worldwide in 2015. The biggest market shares for these materials are from the US, China, and the UK. Many experts forecast that the WPC market will continue to grow, especially in the UK. Studies show that many homeowners in the UK favour having outdoor spaces, contributing to the demand for landscaping and hardscaping materials. But the question is, why do people prefer it for decking?
Why Do People Use It?
Today, composites are becoming the most preferred construction material, especially for decking. But what makes it so popular? WPC is a product designed to substitute wood. But what are the advantages of using it instead of using ordinary timber? Composite materials are more versatile and durable than wood. Unlike wood, WPC is suitable in most environments, making them excellent materials for decking. Composite decking, for instance, is more resistant to moisture, insects, splintering, and rotting, than a wooden one. Unlike other thermoplastic materials without any wood fibre, composites are more resistant to thermal expansion, which in turn reduces the chance of warping and bending.
Another reason for its popularity is because of its outer capping. Aside from providing durability, the exterior capping of composites makes it easier to maintain. Wood-plastic decks require very little maintenance, unlike wood which requires regular staining, sealing, and painting, which adds to the total upkeep costs. In the long-term, you will likely save more money from WPC decks due to how little you will spend for its maintenance. Many also enjoy the long lifespan of composites. Most wooden decks can only last anywhere between 5 to 20 years, whereas wood-plastic decks can last at least 20 years. Some suppliers even offer warranty coverage for as long as 30 years.
Lastly, unlike other wood alternatives, composites look like real wood. Some companies have products with wood textures and grain patterns for added aesthetics. You can also find various shades and colours that resemble natural lumber. Many use it to create beautiful patios and gardens for their outdoor living spaces. In many ways, composites are the superior decking material. But with so many advantages, does it have any disadvantages?
Are There Any Disadvantages to Using It?
Like any other material, composites also have some disadvantages. One such drawback is that it’s not designed to be painted. While some people may not find this an issue, homeowners who want to repaint their decks now and then can find this inconvenient. Naturally, you can still technically paint it, but there are some preparations and drawbacks in doing so. Before you can paint any wood-plastic composite, you will need to sand it first so that paint will adhere to its surface. Doing so, however, removes the capping, which provides protection. You will also have to treat it like real wood, requiring you to paint, seal, and stain it every few years. So painting it should be the last thing you will want to do.
Another disadvantage of plastic-wood is its price. The cost can be significantly more expensive, almost twice that of softwood materials. However, many homeowners find spending the extra money worth it, due to its many advantages, such as its long lifespan and low upkeep. Of course, there is still plenty of room for improving composites. But overall, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. And many companies, together with research institutions, continue to improve and refine the material.
Photo via Unsplash
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